The CIAA has finally arrived.
The 65th annual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Men's and Women's Basketball Tournament took over the Queen City last week as the five-day tournament returned for its fifth year in Charlotte. The CIAA is the premier basketball conference for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Over the years, it has evolved from a regional basketball event to a national destination for upwardly mobile African-Americans.
So, if the conference is in its fifth year of operation, why has it finally arrived? Because the city of Charlotte finally got over itself and realized what we've been saying all along: The college-educated black folks who attend CIAA are here for a cultural experience that includes networking, socializing, spectatorship and fellowship.
The trepidation with which Charlotte greeted the CIAA conference in 2005, when it first arrived, has largely been replaced by open arms, with local businesses and venues literally rolling out the red carpet for attendees.
Some would argue that Charlotte businesses were so jovial and welcoming because of declining dollars throughout the year due to the recession. There is money to be made during the tournament, which has been consistently proven, even during rough economic times. According to the conference Web site, CIAA accounted for the direct spending of more than $25 million and a total economic impact of $38.2 million dollars over the one-week period in 2009. Neither the recession nor bad weather kept the dollars from rolling into the city during last year's tournament.
This year's tournament had even more events and much better weather, so the anticipated economic impact is tremendous from this year's receipts. According to veteran music/event promoter Michael Kitchen of The Sol Kitchen: "Last year ... even though there were a lot of people here, some promoters felt the heat because there were fewer attendees than during previous years. Those that came spent less money. This year was much better ... people came out in droves because the weather was much improved, which helped to make this year's tournament one of the best ever financially and socially."
April Garrett, 31, a visitor from Miami shares Kitchen's sentiment: "I went to North Carolina A&T, so I always attended the conference. In Raleigh, everything was spread out and there wasn't a lot to do. This year's conference is the best because there was so much going on -- parties and events -- and Charlotte is such a nice city." First-time attendee, Craig Robinson, 31, of Washington, D.C., said, "I came down because I heard a lot about it from my friends. I think it's cool because the conference has a small-time flavor to it, but it is a major event. It is great to see African-Americans coming together to support HBCUs, and you can't beat the networking. Everyone is getting along, which is great."
Basketball games and CIAA-sponsored events were buoyed by affairs hosted by celebrities and entrepreneurs. Rick Ross, Allen Iverson, Greg Oden, Melanie Fiona, Michael Vick, Lil Kim, Doug E. Fresh, Chuck Brown and MC Lyte were among the personalities in attendance who either hosted or performed.
Perhaps the most anticipated celebrity party of the weekend was Taylor Massey Entertainment's party at the Ramada Hotel at Woodlawn, hosted by Diddy. The event was well attended and had lots of buzz and energy, recovering nicely from a shaky start due to organizational challenges.
While most people enjoyed the tournament, there were some complaints. Garrett disliked her stay at The Blake Hotel. The conference was also marked by traffic jams in Uptown, particularly on Saturday night.
Promoter George Spencer is concerned about the infrastructure in downtown, especially from 2nd to 7th streets. "There needs to be a better job of handling the traffic. Providing alternate routes and transportation options is something the city can work on. For example, keeping the rail open later or providing additional public transportation via shuttles would be invaluable to attendees and help alleviate traffic concerns," he said.
Uncovered parking, like that at the nightclub 935 and the Ramada, also needs to be better managed. When promoters are expecting hundreds of attendees, there needs to be a parking plan in place.
In addition, although the parties seem to get better each year, they are still marred by novice issues like ticket problems. Part of the reason for buying tickets in advance is to avoid standing in line. Unless there is a capacity issue, advance ticketholders should not be standing in line with folks waiting to purchase tickets.
CIAA is clearly a national destination and next year is the last year on the contract. Just as the tournament appears to be hitting its stride, there have been rumblings about cities like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., making a major push to win the tournament.
This year, a perfect storm occurred -- decent weather, great venues, positive attitudes, packed parties, veteran promoters, world-class talent and discretionary income made for a great 2010 conference. Is this enough for the Queen City to do what it takes to keep CIAA in Charlotte? Only time will tell.